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Former Thunderbirds Commander Reflects on Thunderbirds and Blue Angels Crashes

U.S. Navy Blue Angels fly in a delta formation over Pensacola, Florida

There are only a handful of organizations whose sole mission is to
travel across the United States and allow Americans to see their
military up close and personal. Among them are two teams that showcase
the professionalism and leading edge technology of the most powerful
Navy and Air Force the world has ever known. They do it in a way that
draws crowds filled with butchers, school teachers, farmers, dry
cleaners—folks from every walk of life who would otherwise never get a
glimpse of their military. A military they each had a hand in crafting.
Some may just want to see their taxes at work – but others want to feel
the rush, the excitement associated with being next to people who are
willing to give their all for this nation. No matter how outwardly stoic
they may seem to their families, every man and woman in eyeshot is
touched to the core with same pride you and I feel every time we see
them fly.

However, nothing worthwhile comes without risk. Yesterday, Major Alex
Smith’s aircraft, Thunderbird 6, suffered an engine failure forcing him
to eject near Colorado Springs, Colorado. Just a few hours later,
Capt.Jeff Kuss, flying Blue Angel 6, was killed during a practice
demonstration at Smyrna, Tennessee.

The Thunderbirds and Blue Angels collectively perform over 140
demonstrations every year. To do that, they fly six days a week, for
eight straight months. And while both teams do their level best to
minimize the dangers associated with executing the demonstration, they
know the risk, and the bonds within grow only closer living in it. I
know that feeling well, and my heart aches for the family of Capt. Jeff
Kuss, and for a team no longer whole without him.

U.S. Navy Blue Angels, Lead Solo Lt. Ryan Chamberlain and Opposing Solo
Capt. Jeff Kuss perform the Fortus maneuver at the United States Naval
Academy Air Show on May 25.

Over the next several weeks, the Thunderbirds and Blue Angels will
pause to take stock of their respective operations. For the Blues, that
will be particularly hard as they mourn the loss of their teammate,
brother in arms—their friend. And then they will slowly move to rebuild.
Teams of safety investigators are even now moving to the mishap
locations to begin piecing together the timeline, eyewitness accounts,
and clues surrounding the two accidents. Once there, they will move
tirelessly until they know the cause for each accident, and then do
everything required to ensure the next demonstration flown is that much

While they take stock, maybe we should all take a minute or two to do
the same thing—to pause long enough to realize what we have in our
incredible military, and in these two extraordinary organizations that
bring that surge of pride to our door. And maybe then, take one more
moment to say a prayer of thanks for Capt.Jeff Kuss, and people just
like him who are standing watch over us, still.